udas Iscariot, Adolf Hitler, Ted Bundy, or even Satan—these are all names brought up as supposed knock-down defeaters when universalism is proposed as an eschatological hope.
A common line of thought in defense of a hell of everlasting suffering—at least as the rightful punishment for this or that well-known villain of history—goes something like this: “Surely there cannot be any reason to hope for the salvation of such a person? And certainly you would not be so callous towards the people hurt by that wretched criminal to hope God extends such merciful offers to someone so evil? It would be the height of absurdity—a disgusting and flagrant injustice—for Hitler to be in paradise with all his victims, don’t you think?”
It would certainly be a twisted understanding of heaven to imagine that Hitler, just as he was on earth, would be allowed to simply enjoy eternity alongside the many people who suffered under the Nazi government. But this idea is categorically ruled out by the universalism presented in the Bible. The concept that God simply ignores sin to allow anyone into heaven, unchanged and unrepentant, after they die cannot be (and historically has not been) taken as a serious eschatological option by any universalists.
However, it is true that “the Greater Hope” provides us with reason to believe that one day Hitler will indeed be eating, singing songs, laughing at wisecracks, and genuinely enjoying his time with the very people he wanted wiped off the earth because he thought of them as vermin. But he will only be able to laugh with them long, long after he has first cried with them. Whenever it is that he finally realizes the sheer depravity and scope of the horrors he perpetrated on earth, his guilt will be overwhelming and his sobs uncontrollable. The sheer, searing force of the conviction brought about by his God-given conscience finally reaching its breaking point will be a hellish experience for him. He will realize his path to being what he was made to be and experiencing the relationships he was made to experience is excruciatingly long but is the only real option if he wants to finally live.
And this kind of path, initiated by recognizing past sins and grieving over harms caused, is the essential and grace-paved road that every individual must take as part of the process by which God will make them new, as He makes all things new. God is not in the business of handing out “free passes” that allow for sin to simply be overlooked while the root cause of such sin remains untouched. Christ’s self-sacrificial and transformational love has the power to take away the sin of the world—including the sin of someone as deeply flawed as Hitler. But that violent Nazi dictator must (and someday, thankfully, will) fall to his knees and weep before God, in the sight of his victims, as an early and important step in becoming his true self.
It is the truly universalist position (the truly catholic one, etymologically speaking at least) to expect the ultimate reconciliation of every single spiritual being with the all-loving God who created each and every one to begin with. But the idea of worshipping God in heaven alongside even former demons and the Devil himself is not necessarily an easy pill to swallow. Although, some hold Satan to be a metaphorical personification of systemic evils. If that were to be the case then, as is true for hell and death (non-personal forces), defeat will mean obliteration—wiping out of existence. But if the more conservative and traditional position is correct, then the Devil is a spiritual being, a distinct person, and a rebellious angel that God will transform in the end. Whether it takes one thousand, one million, or more than a billion years—or whether the process is not even comparable to our current conceptions of time—does not affect the central idea. As long as reconciliation will eventually occur, that is grounds for great joy and hope.
And we have good reason to believe that a full and complete restoration will take place.
We have incredible testimonies of people who did countless abusive, violent, and hateful things before becoming dramatically and deeply changed by assenting to God’s loving and transformative power. Innumerable souls suffered due to the work of John Newton in his early life, as he captained slave trading ships that transported people to be sold into dire conditions. But he went on to become an active abolitionist and Christian minister, penning many hymns, including “Amazing Grace.” And who knows how many people were unjustly imprisoned or killed under the stewardship of Saul of Tarsus before he became known as Paul the Apostle. Yet this man, the “chief of sinners,” is regarded as one of the great examples—if not the greatest example—of someone in the early church that we should look up to and imitate. Of course, God’s relentless extension of forgiveness by no means suggests that it is completely fine to simply go on sinning today since God’s mercies are new every morning. Yet even so—as Paul recognized—someone’s past, no matter how dark or depraved or disgusting, could never include a “last straw” where God says, “That’s it. I wash my hands of this. No more grace for you ever again.”
No, even for Hitler, even for Satan, even for Saul of Tarsus, and for any other name one can think of (including you!), where sin abounds, grace abounds much more.